Google Glasses and dozens of other brands of Augmented Reality goggles hit the road running for Christmas 2013 and over the next couple of years AR applications went from Wow to business as usual. Today people look at you sideways in many cities if you aren't wearing glasses. But there has been a downside. People can't bear to be without them.
Hey folks and valued readers. It has been a few days since I posted and I just wanted to let you know that there have been some changes in my career, but that I am still around and will continue to share my thoughts and interests in this blog.
After 8 years it was time for a move from Geosmart and I have now joined a relatively new company called Imersia as CCO. Imersia was founded in 2009 by entrepreneurs Dr Roy Davies and Jon Lowther, a couple of very clever guys with ideas about the world we live in and the world we want to live in, similar to mine.
In a nutshell we are working in location based services, mobile, Augmented Reality, proximity based marketing, GPS and more across a wide variety of industries with a local flavour, i.e. the business is based in New Zealand and we would like it to stay that way if possible, but a global focus. Effectively I am walking the talk, I have spent many years consulting and evangelising, I’m still doing that, but also much more on the creating side, at least from a company perspective, I’m not a developer myself.
So stick around, don’t delete your RSS feed because I still have lots of exciting ideas, if I say so myself, about leading the way into the future we want, from a technology perspective, but also about the kind of world we want for our families and future generations, cool toys and business tools as well as a safe and sustainable environment. I am ever the idealist.
New Zealand is full of clever people and I am hoping we can enable more of them to take part in the global stage. I’m keen to see some new names appear in the lists of Kiwi innovators contributing to our GDP and being supported by our Government. I love names like Tait Electronics (I spent 7 happy years working for them), Gallagher Electronics and Fisher & Paykel, but isn’t it time for some new kids on the block?
Watch this space:)
If I had a dollar for each time I get asked this question I would be able to retire. I have blogged about this before, but it is certainly time for an update, particularly with some of the stories I’ve seen in the media recently, which have either been advertorial or blaming GPS for sending people off the road.
Some people see car navigation as a cool toy, or think that they are all pretty much the same. Instead think about what you need it for. Going skiing? Picking up the kids from somewhere you haven’t been before on a wet, dark winters evening? Trying to get to an important business meeting on time, finding your hotel or the nearest ATM? Are you a geek, or do you need something that is basic and easy to use?
Car navigation today offers a myriad of options from mobile smartphone applications through PND (Portable Navigation Devices) to in-car devices that are factory installed. The most important things to look at are the currency and accuracy of the map data and points of interest information. It doesn’t matter how cool it is if the information is inaccurate or out of date.
NZ Automobile Association subsidiary GeoSmart has a NZ based team driving and updating maps full-time with 4 major updates every year for a number of car navigation brands, and maps roads to sub .5 meter accuracy. Have you ever been told to go to the nearest road when you are on it? This includes important things like having accurate speed zones to warn you when you are over the speed limit, school zones, current Points of Interest and safety cameras.
Traffic congestion is here to stay and it’s not just in the cities. Real time traffic is a powerful navigation tool to find alternate routes when available and with brands such as TomTom offering HD Traffic in connected devices (PND, iPhone and iPad, and in-car systems), real-time traffic is available throughout all of New Zealand where you can receive a mobile phone signal.
Whilst traffic is a major urban problem, this winter has already seen hundreds of road closures due to slips, accidents, flooding and more, most of them outside the major cities. Many people don’t think outside of the city until they get stuck.
When there is a weather bomb the AA Roadwatch website can have up to 100,000 page views in a day and that’s before people even get in their cars. Some brands and devices only offer traffic information via RDS-TMC broadcast radio in Auckland, Wellington and Christchurch, which has limited capacity for the amount of information it can send due to bandwidth restrictions and of course if you are driving outside of those cities, it can’t help you.
This technology was launched in NZ by GeoSmart back in 2006, but now they can stream live traffic and congestion data every two minutes across all of NZ via a mobile network, this means that you are fully informed of the road conditions for some 97% of the road network of NZ.
When people ask what is the best GPS, there is no correct answer. There are many great products and it comes down to when and where you want to use them and what information matters to you.
They start with ‘free’ products on Smartphones. These may provide routing, but are unlikely to have information such as speed zones, lane guidance, turn restrictions or have the latest map data. They generally don’t have the maps loaded into the phone which means that every single map image and set of instructions has to be downloaded as you go and this can add up to a significant cost on your mobile data account. Recent research in Europe has shown that often adding the data costs result in ‘free’ being much more expensive than buying an app or a device where the maps are stored locally.
There are paid apps for Smartphones and tablets including products such as Metroview NZ City Maps which gives you one NZ city or region for $9.95 with full car navigation and the maps on your device, to TomTom which offers effectively the same experience as you would get on a TomTom device, even with real-time traffic, funny voices and even social media location-based apps. Obviously a benefit of a mobile app is that your mobile is always with you and you don’t need to have multiple devices.
There has been a price war in recent times with portable devices and you can purchase devices from as little as $100. Keep in mind that generally you get what you pay for. To put a device out at really cheap prices, something has to be sacrificed. Some products state that they will give you “up to” 4 map updates a year (which could mean just one) where others will “guarantee” 4 map updates per year. Are they up to date with changes such as speed zones, new roads, State Highway realignment, the Auckland SH1 tunnel and viaduct switch, new suburbs and subdivisions?
On the matter of updates, how do you get them? How easy are they to install?
Try the device in-store with roads you know have changed. Entry level doesn’t have to mean inferior but it pays to understand what you need from it. We are also starting to see larger screens on portable devices up to 6 inches, which is great for trucks or people with poor eyesight.
The future of car navigation is a connected device, whether it is a mobile smartphone, a PND that contains a SIM card and is always connected, with the ability to do location-based search, social media and location-based check-ins and look for live car park availability, entertainment and events, or a device that comes factory fitted in your car, also has a SIM card and has the ability to tell emergency services that you have had an air bag deployment and can provide your location.
This market is evolving all the time. Next time you look at buying a nav unit or application, think about the last time you needed help. Were you in a hurry? Did you get stuck in traffic? Do you travel outside of Auckland, Wellington and Christchurch? Think about an area that you know has changed recently, for example the Victoria Park Viaduct over-bridges southbound or the tunnel going north. When the Wellington Street on-ramp is open again onto the Northern Motorway, would you like to know about it? Have you arrived at a motorway on-ramp only to find it is closed for maintenance? How did you feel? Did it matter? Did you know how to get to another ramp that was open?
GPS units aren’t all equal. Try a unit before you buy. Don’t just read what it says on the packaging (or at least read the fine print carefully), ask someone who has one if they would buy the same product again. It’s not just about the money, it’s about the freedom to go wherever you want via the best route at that specific point in time, to be able to relax and enjoy a stress free journey.
Do you have a car nav story? Did it help you on a trip? Are you happy with your purchase?
I’ve been writing a series of blogs about my recent road trip in the USA and the applications that helped and didn’t help me along the way. The last couple of blogs were about TripAdvisor which was a big help when it came to accommodation, but not great for much else.
I’ve been a big fan of Foursquare for a long time. You’ll find it mentioned in many of my blogs. One of the common threads is that people all over the world are ‘checking-in’ using the GPS on their mobile phones to all sorts of businesses, leaving tips and comments. There are recommendations of favourite food, or great service through to comments about lack of hygiene in the bathrooms.
The really frustrating thing is that the vast majority of businesses that get a mention on Foursquare have no idea what it is, or that they are involved. Foursquare is of course well-known by people in marketing roles, especially those involved in social media. Most of my friends in the information and communication technology industries use it. I’ve written a number of blogs trying to promote it to businesses in the hospitality and tourism industries because it is free and because tourists and travelers are using it. I suspect it mostly falls on deaf ears.
Many of the hotels I stayed at on my trip were on the outskirts of towns and somehow we managed to pretty much always arrive around 5-6PM tired and hungry. Where to find somewhere good to eat? Initially we went for walks or drives, but we really just wanted to relax. I quickly found that Foursquare was the best way to not only find out what was nearby, but also to find what places people recommend, or don’t.
You can search from a range of items based on proximity including Specials, Food, Coffee, Sights, Arts, Trending and more. You don’t just have the option of searching in proximity to where you are, but effectively you can pan the map for the bigger picture, or search by place-name for your next destination.
Using this we found some great restaurants and bars and also managed to confirm the location of an alligator hatchery in Louisiana that the navigation unit placed about a mile wrong in the middle of nowhere, which was pretty disconcerting when we were driving on the wrong side of the road (for us) of some very narrow country roads.
I do have to say that I only found a few specials using Foursquare, which reinforced my experience that hundreds of thousands of businesses are missing out on opportunities to pro-actively win more business.
I also kicked myself after spending 45 minutes waiting for a quesadilla at The Iron Kettle restaurant in Lynchburg, because if I had used Foursquare I would have read a comment left by a previous visitor saying: “Avoid. Slow service. You could walk to New York and get a three course meal in the time it takes for a simple burger here.” They were right too. To her credit, the waitress refused to charge us for our lunch, much to the disgust of the manageress.
That brings me to another very cool feature of Foursquare and that is the ‘History’ function. If you log on to your Foursquare account and select history, you will find a chronological record of every location you checked into including the time, date and any photos or comments you made at the time. I had originally planned to start a travel diary using My Vacation on my iPad. I have to say that lasted about 3 days. We were just so busy doing and planning that we just didn’t feel like keeping a diary. Turns out we didn’t need to. That alone is a great reason to use Foursquare next time you are going on a trip. Check in, take photos, make comments and you have your travel diary.
Pay it forward and leave tips, good and bad about the locations you check in to so that others can benefit from your experience and learn from mine as well, that even if it is right there in front of you and looks OK, check for tips and comments other people have left. As I’ve said in previous blogs about TripAdvisor, if one person leaves a bad comment, take it with a big grain of salt, but when there are several, where there’s smoke, there could well be fire.
I love Foursquare and feel it is perhaps seen by many, such as those who still mock twitter, saying “I don’t care if you had a coffee!” as a waste of time. I say that it is a wonderful marketing tool, a great site and app for exploring new places that you may not otherwise have found and definitely ranks as my favourite global Points of Interest database.
Give it a go, whether you are travelling on holiday or just looking to try a new place to eat, have a coffee or be entertained. If you find it useful, share your own tips and comments, pay it forward.
I also welcome comments on my blog. What do you like or not like about Foursquare. What have I missed? There is of course much more including game mechanics, leaving comments on other people’s check-ins, mayorships, badges, friends and lists and the ability to add new locations on the fly and share them with the rest of the world. There are also many 3rd party apps usng the Foursquare API’s. What are your favourite features?
I recently wrote a blog about TripAdvisor and how to make the most of it on your FIT (Free Independent Traveler) trip.
What can you learn as a developer or someone who wants to own their own app to win loyalty and business in the hospitality and tourist industry?
The first thing is content. Most applications are city focused. That’s understandable, but based on my experience in the Southern States was that there were loads of tourists looking for cool things to do and see, but they were so hard to find. If I hadn’t found the Blues Trail Guide at the Natchez Trace Information Centre, I would not have visited Crystal Springs because according to TripAdvisor there was nothing there but a single restaurant. In fact I had the most wonderful day there, meeting the Mayor at City Hall and spending a couple of hours with Theresa, the Granddaughter of legendary blues giant of Crossroads fame Robert Johnson at his museum.
Now you may not have heard of Robert Johnson, or watched the movie Crossroads, inspired by his legendary story, but if you are a blues fan, then this is a must do pilgrimage and to actually meet and talk with his granddaughter is something you won’t likely do at music museums or historic places of interest anywhere in the world. My point is that outside of the cities is where the real people live and the world is full of exciting and interesting places outside of Disney, Alcatraz or the Empire State Building.
While I make that criticism, I do have to say that TripAdvisor was by far the best for the apps I used on my trip. I was able to find the properties I wanted to stay in, I was able to filter things to do, types of accommodation and more, I guess the key thing was lack of information outside of cities.
As a future step, I’d like it to have the ability to learn about me, profile me based on my interests and make suggestions to me. Given the wealth of information they do have, this would not be too difficult.
When it comes to accomodation, maybe they could also help me with search functionality that would allow me to eliminate properties with keywords, for example ‘show me all properties in Xville excluding keywords ‘bed bugs’ and ‘bad internet’. I understand the problem for properties who may be unfairly targeted by competitors trying to put people off their properties, but that is a security issue and there are always opportunities for redress. The fact is, wherever I saw comments about bedbugs etc, I avoided those properties like the plague. So all it did was make it take longer for me to find those comments, but I still didn’t stay at those properties. What frustrated me the most was that I spent up to 2 hours some nights, instead of relaxing, trying to work out where we would go next and where we would stay, which took a bit of the gloss off an awesome trip.
I’d like an app, and I know people are building them, which allow you to list your interests and then it will generate a tour or recommendations to meet your interests. Issue for me is most of them are based around specific advertisers who are often self rated, or very generic interests. That doesn’t work for me, I want apps that have all places, business and non business.
Probably the biggest one for me is I want live events. This was the hardest thing of all and TripAdvisor didn’t support this. If you ask a tourist what some of the best things they did were, it was about real life events, fairs, the bath-tub river race, Civil War reenactments (there were plenty but other than driving past one by accident we wouldn’t have had a clue where to find them), concerts, shows, the rodeo in Hattiesburg MS which we only found out about because we were in a hotel restaurant having breakfast and met a family who were competing in it.
Tourism is hurting around the world. Lots of people are traveling their own countries rather than going overseas. Lots of treasures are being missed in towns that have a lot to offer and many of those businesses need our tourism dollars more than the big cities.
A footnote to state and regional tourism organisations, particularly USA, Australia and New Zealand. It is frustrating and short sighted in my humble opinion to stop your tourism efforts at the border. I loved the Tennessee tourism book, but it was too hard to use and it stopped at the border. I also understand that your tax dollars stop at the border, but tourists don’t. Same to Louisiana who obviously had their book made by the same publisher. If you are using the same company, then that company could perhaps look at making quality location based applications that make it easy and attractive for people to enjoy holidays and spend their money.
Perhaps the key is to ask the tourists what they want rather than just continue to focus on traditional print business as usual.
There was a story in NBR today called Tough Winter for Restaurants. I left a comment, but it appears to have been moderated, perhaps someone thought it was self serving, just a guess.
I’m actually in the middle of a series of blogs, as you may be aware about location based services, but am going to take a quick break from this to share a few simple reminders about the basics of running a business in the hospitality sector.
What gives me the credentials to make comments on this, you may ask? Here’s a few:
- I completed a Hotel Motel Management course many years ago and assisted and lived in a busy Auckland motel for 18 months.
- I have attended hospitality conferences and exhibitions around the world.
- I started playing guitar and assisting in cafes and restaurants from the age of 14.
- I ran the Casio distributorship for cash registers in New Zealand and assisted with Australia and held around 70% market share in the industry segment for around 7 years and during that time keynoted for conferences including HANZ, Retail Merchants Association and others.
- I was technology editor for a retail magazine.
- I was involved in the development of the first electronic waiter pad systems in NZ, which were subsequently sold through Casio dealers in other parts of the world.
I could go on but I think that will do. So here are a few elements of Restaurants 101 for 2012.
There is an oversupply of restaurants and fast food outlets for the population of the country in most parts of New Zealand. Very few of the people running the restaurants have business training, many do it because they love food and they love people and entertaining and have passion for their business. Once that was probably enough. Having said that, even 30 years ago, a large percentage of these businesses changed hands every 18 months and having gone broke, trained the people who took over from them.
Table turn. The more times your tables are occupied within a dining session, the more profitable, subject within reason to what they are buying. Entrees and desserts are more profitable than mains. Make the mains too big and people won’t buy dessert. Dessert’s tend to generate around 80% gross profit margin.
If people are in for a night, keep coming to see them, ask if they are happy, offer them drinks. Alcohol offers large profit margins. Develop a relationship with them. A restaurant with a maitre d’ or person who remains in the dining area all the time, separate from the people who bring food in from the kitchen and take away the plates and cutlery, will make more profitable sales.
Ask guests what their expectations are, do they need to be served quickly because they are going to a movie or a show, or would they prefer to relax with drinks before and between courses. Show them that you care about their business and experience. People don’t mind paying if they are enjoying themselves. Be sincere, don’t give fake smiles and say enjoy and have people see your smile turn into something else before you have even turned away.
When a restaurant is empty or quiet, people walk past and wonder what everyone else knows that you don’t. If it is busy, more people will want to come in, but that doesn’t mean keep people hanging, waiting for service, because it will empty pretty quickly.
Have a business plan and understand what your model is, understand who your target market is and what they are looking for. There are lots of smart things you can do using social media and location based technologies and you will find plenty of them if you search through my blog, BUT if you don’t have the basics right, they won’t help you.
Many people still haven’t figured out that daily deal sites won’t bring you good business. Very few people who come to you through those sites will be back. They will cherry pick your profits and then do the same to the next business.
If you have the basics right and you know what your KPI’s are then I recommend you start with something like a combination of Foursquare and other social media. Have a really good look through Foursquare and the types of deals you can do with them for free.
Location based services and proximity based marketing are really good tools for distressed inventory. Fill empty tables when you need to fill them, not by discounting before you even know if you will. Get creative, remember Death by Chocolate? If you have desserts left, its getting late, look for people who might come in for coffee, Irish coffee and dessert, you’ll make as much profit from them as some of the people who stayed for an hour or more and just had a main and wine.
If you have any questions, please leave them here or if you disagree, I’m open to that too.
If I had only one application to use on my road trip it would be tripadvisor. Having said that it wasn’t enough on my road trip although I spent more time using this app than any other. I put a lot of planning into the trip before hand and contacted US State Tourism organisations asking for information. Only Tennessee came back to me with a booklet including useful maps of the whole state and things to do, places to see, which was great. I filled it with post it flags.
All tourist organisations have material like this book, but they don’t make it easy to access and they don’t appear to collaborate interstate. This is a major negative for a traveller on a road trip that regional tourist operators in New Zealand and Australia should also think about. I managed to get a similar book for Louisiana when I arrived in New Orleans, which looked like it was designed by the same company. I was lucky that the property we stayed in had one in the room. Otherwise you need to find an Information Centre, but of course these aere widely spread out and you need info to find one.
The biggest problem was that these books were segmented by town or county and not well linked to the main map. They were designed more for people who are looking at locating themselves in a town for a holiday and exploring from there. Also the maps for each state ended strictly on the state line, so if there was something worth enjoying on the other side, it wasn’t going to be on the map. This makes it really difficult to plan a multi state holiday. It would be far better for State and Regional Tourism Operators to work together to mutual benefit. I’m going to cross the line whether you make it easy for me or not.
So back to tripadvisor. If you install it on your mobile or iPad it will help you find Accommodation, Restaurants, Flights and Things To Do, sometimes. What I found was that they worked pretty well in cities, which was the same case with apps such as Foursquare and others, but when you go to rural USA, which was my plan for 3 weeks, the information tends to be more limited to accommodation and sparse when it comes to the many interesting attractions that people have put huge effort into but leave most people blissfuly unaware of them.
My main use for tripadvisor was accommodation and this was really interesting. When you travel through rural America there is a huge variety of accommodation options from very cheap to very expensive. The great thing about it is that it is full of reviews from people who have stayed at those properties. Reviews is something that scare the hell out of tourism industry publishers who charge people to list on their publications, websites, reservation engines etc and in New Zealand some property operators have complained about competitors giving them bad reviews, therefore saying the systems don’t work.
My message to them is that I trust my peers more than I trust advertising, especially those who have stayed at the properties. When you do advertise, make sure you are honest and deliver on your promise. When you say you have high speed WiFi Access throughout the property, make sure you do because this could be the deciding factor as to why someone books and stays with you and the one negative if it doesn’t work, that they will tell the world about.
For the app user:
- Read many reviews. Look at the dates they were posted and read them carefully. Often there are unique stories where the person had unique needs or expectations that were not met. The more reviews you read, the more you will get the real big picture. Some people are unreasonable or feel that if they are doing a review they have to find fault. Do other people contradict their comments or are there common threads?
- Think about what your needs and time frames are. For example I got a cheap hotel for one night in New Orleans as we were arriving at 1AM and leaving again first thing in the morning. The review said it was clean and tidy but the air conditioning was noisy. They were right, but we knew we were going to be so tired after 30 hours of traveling that it wouldn’t keep us awake and the price and location was good.
- We ended up rating properties based on the things we were looking for and canceling out any that looked dodgy, for example several had complaints about bed bugs.
- We were able to ‘star’ the ones we thought were ok for a re-look.
- We also looked for situations where people had complained and the manager of the property came back and offered solutions and responses. In some cases there were managers who responded to every comment good and bad.
- The problem is that there are many options and when you are doing a road trip and trying to find attractions etc, you can easily waste hours of what should be relaxation time on your trip, but this is one of the costs of being a FIT.
- Tripadvisor offers many choices of reservation engines and price checks. I quickly found that once I had found a property I liked, a phone call to their front desk not only got me a cheaper price than all of the reservation sites, but also cooperation on a better room. Many properties will put you in a crappy room next to the laundry, the road or the busy swimming pool when you get a cheap online booking. If someone recommends a room number and their review sounds like what you are looking for, ask for that room.
Tips for the Tourist Operator:
- Your property is likely to end up in tripadvisor whether you submit it or not.
- People will talk about your property whether you like it or not. Most of them will be bona-fide guests who benefited from the application and are therefore sharing their experience.
- Put yourselves in their shoes. Your business is about hospitality and for your guest it is totally personal. Treat them as you would your family.
- When people make a comment about your business, good or bad, acknowledge and respond to it.
- If you sell rooms cheap on reservation engines don’t automatically give them the crappy room that you never sell if there are better rooms that are going to stay empty. I had a property in Auckland, Sebel Suites, do that to me early this year. They said they could only give me a room with a view of the carpark, because I had booked
on a cheap promotion. The thing was that they didn’t sell many of the nice rooms overlooking the beautiful Auckland Viaduct Basin that night (I followed up the next morning), but if they had, it wouldn’t have been fair to the people who paid full price. So here’s my advice to them, which the Duty Manager didn’t want to hear. I live on the outskirts of Auckland. I have the choice to go home, but sometimes my wife and I like to go to a show, or out for a night, have a few drinks and not have to worry about driving home. We have stayed in many properties in Auckland. We have told all of our friends and tripadvisor which ones we liked and which ones we felt let us down. We will never again go to the Sebel Suites, we will go back to hotels like the Sky City Grand which has some great promotions on their site. As I said, it travel and tourism is personal.
- Make sure your business is on sites and apps like TripAdvisor.
Bottom line, I almost hated tripadvisor by the end of my holiday because we became almost fanatic about reading the reviews. We found the star ratings didn’t help much and whilst there was a function to save the ones we wanted to revisit, we couldn’t also flag the ones to avoid. We spent a huge amount of time on the site, BUT in every location we found exactly what we expected. We knew which rooms to avoid, and quickly learned to read between the lines.
For developers, this is an excellent site / application to learn from, not perfect but very good, even using your location on your mobile to help you find locations. For users, do give back. If you value crowd sourced feedback and make decisions based on it, you need to give back as well. If you are in New Zealand or Australia, talk to us at GeoSmart. We can help you with practical experience as both frequent travellers and users of apps and a mapping company that cares very strongly about the quality of our location-based data, maps, Points of Interest and the success of applications developed using it. We are local and keen to help. If you are here, but aiming for the world, we can help you get a start based on what we know about the industry and our experience as travelers. We want to help grow New Zealand international success stories.
Planning a road trip somewhere or know somene who is? The may be interested in this series of blogs, which they can find at http://luigicappel.wordpress.com Please feel free to forward this to anyone you think may benefit from it. I wish I had been given a lot of this advice before I left for my trip.
I will follow this up with some ideas as to what would have made tripadvisor a better app for the road tripper, which may be of interest to people looking at developing apps for travel and tourism and am happy to discuss my ideas and experience.
This is a follow on from my previous blogs.
So when you do it all yourself, the first things you start worrying about are whether the bookings you made will be honored. I printed off 2 copies of everything including copies of our passports because there is always the risk that your luggage will not arrive at the same place as you do. I emailed copies to myself as well so I could access them from a variety of sources as well.
Some properties are really good at responding to your requests and others seem to have all the technology but really don’t manage it very well. I once arrived, excited to be at the Pink Flamingo in Las Vegas, booked through a travel agent who through time zones were asleep, when the front desk told me they had no record of my booking and were full with a conference. After a lot of pressure they found me a room for one night and then I was on my own, so I have reason to be cautious. When I booked my first night’s accommodation at the Days Inn at New Orleans Airport using the Booking.com app on my iPad, I requested a quiet room and confirmation that they would pick me up at the airport when I arrived at the airport. I didn’t get confirmation, so I rang them a couple of days before I left. They told me to call from the airport when I arrived. No problem there.
Another thing I would recommend if you are going on a long trip and have kids or family at home you need to stay in touch with, is to arrange free-calling from home to the country you are going to. I have that set up with Orcon already for my music business. Effectively from home anyone can call any number on the USA, including mobiles for up to one hour at a time. We used that a lot.
I also tried a few VOIP / Mobile apps for low-cost communication. The one we used daily was Voxer. They promote their application as a Walkie Talkie and one of its key features is a push to talk function. The nice thing is that the other person doesn’t actually have to be there or respond straight away. It also allows you to send photos and TXT messages without using the mobile phone system, so much cheaper. It was also an easy way to let them know to call us.
One of the things I found when I did my research on how I was going to be able to plan our trip on a daily basis was which properties had applications of their own, such as for Apple devices. In most cases what I found was that a very large number of properties in the hospitality and tourism industry had very nice brochureware applications. They seem to be typically template driven, designed to keep the cost down, but the weakness with most of them was that once the property had set up the application, or paid a developer to do it for them, they forgot all about it and didn’t keep them up to date. This reminded me very much of the tourism industry in general when it comes to web sites. It doesn’t inspire people to visit the property which is surely the reason they pay for them in the first place. I also found that hardly any of them took advantage of the ability to use the GPS in Smartphones and provide directions based on your location.
I suspect that many destinations do not appreciate the number of people using Smartphones and web applications and also the fact that those people are typically at the higher income level and the type of customers they want visiting their business.
One that really impressed me big time was Oak Alley Plantation in Vacherie, Louisiana. Not far from New Orleans. I was keen to enjoy some history about plantation life and slavery and based on their web presence, booked 2 nights in a historic Doctors House, which was restored to original condition, supplemented by a massive spa bath, cable TV and air conditioning.
They have a great website, excellent iPhone and Android applications, which are well worth downloading and trying out even if you don’t go there, because they are excellent examples of getting it right. They also have a Facebook page, are on Pinterest, YouTube and much more. Many of these pages are updated daily and their use of social media and location is matched by their professionalism when you visit. It is little wonder that they do exceptionally good business. Anyone looking at how to grow their destination business could do well to use them as an example.
There are several plantations in the area, but this one is by far the busiest and I am sure it is their use of technology combined with Southern hospitality and attention to detail at all levels that gets random people like me from the other side of the world to visit. If you are in Australia or New Zealand and want to do something similar, we have partners at GeoSmart who can assist, but you do need to understand that setting up applications and pages are the start, not the end. It is not build it and they will come, it is about maintaining it consistently and engaging with people. This will come up again and again during this series of blogs about road trips and FIT tourists and travellers.
Having just returned from a 3,500km road trip through the Southern States of the USA, I am excited by the opportunities there are for location-based services in the tourist and travel industry. There are so many web sites and applications out there, but unless you are very savvy, being a FIT (Free Independent Traveller) on the road wanting to see and experience as much as possible is actually difficult, tiring and time-consuming.
I have spent a lot of time writing about what I think the industry needs both in New Zealand and internationally and the opportunities for developers to use tools such as those provided by various location-based services providers such as GeoSmart. I’ve written about it from the perspective of how certain industries such as hospitality, attractions, regional tourism operators could better achieve their goals and how the public can use these apps. This was the first time I have spent a length of time driving a rental vehicle through parts of the USA I have never visited before and I now have an even better perspective of the strengths and weaknesses of the sites and apps out there.
The news is good for some apps and not so good for others. I firmly believe that in future we will become connected in an almost neural fashion (not talking wires to the brain here) in a way that each of us can have the experience we want and find people and places that will allow us to have the perfect experience, whilst supporting those businesses that are trying to making a living from providing those experiences.
I’m still working through how to share this information and help make some of these things happen. My blogs will form part of this, but I look forward to talking with the developer community, tourism operators and others, presenting at some more conferences this year and also exploring ways for GeoSmart to be involved in partnering in solutions that could be world leading.
I now understand a little about why people asked me when I was in the USA, “Why are you doing a road trip?” I knew why, because I wanted to see how real America lives, not the people in the city brown stone apartments, but real people in small town USA. I wanted to eat where they did, listen to music where they did and experience the country without the hype. The problem is that there are so many delights and so many pitfalls and without having months or years to do it in, so little information accessible in real-time about what is around you.
If this is of interest to you, follow this blog and some of the links I will share. If you want to do something about your industry, develop or improve applications or help push the world towards solutions that really work. Please feel free to contact me through this blog, or through LinkedIn.
When I got my first in a series of Palm’s (I still have most of them including the Handspring Flossmaster) people looked at my as if I was a geek. OK maybe I was, but I was only doing what many or most of you are doing now, mobile computing. OK, the dental floss dispenser was a bit of a gimmick, but a very cool one and it was actually done as a promotion, not as a serious concept.
So back in the 90′s I was reading eBooks from Fictionwise and other sites which are amazingly still there even though Palm and Handspring are long gone. Fictionwise was already there before Amazon was launched and several years before the Kindle existed. I used to use my PDA during dead moments in-between appointments, while exercising etc. I had apps for Africa, work outs, diaries, games, even mobile email at 9.6kbps on my Ericsson mobile with its expensive Bluetooth dongle.
I helped introduce the first Symbol Palms in New Zealand with bar code readers and whilst they are now running a different OS they are fundamentally being used for the things I suggested such as warehouse inventory management, field sales automation, ticket management at events and so on.
Then my devices got audio and became phones, so I could listen to music, podcasts and started publishing my own podcasts and getting my songs on other people’s shows through to the last few years when my Smartphones got GPS. During that time we went from PDA’s that could also function as phones through to now where our mobiles are powerful computers that are as ubiquitous as I said they would become.
So here are a few thoughts on what is coming next, things that you dear reader are likely to take for granted within the next few years.
As a consequence of your use of check in functionality on your mobile using Facebook, Foursquare, Google+ or whatever software you chose, details about your interests, your friends and family and your activities will be profiled along with most of the people you know. You will get notifications based on where you are and your interests, on your mobile offering you relevant deals as well as a load of spam that will have you wondering whether you should disconnect alltogether, but you won’t.
Your mobile will be your multi-modal navigation device, not just while driving or keeping the cabbie honest, but walking, running, hiking, boating, shopping, providing navigation on the road and even inside buildings such as shopping malls, hospitals and university campuses. You will be able to see where your friends and family are and you will be offered deals based on mutual interests and be able to buy them and pay for them on your mobile.
You won’t have to carry loyalty cards any more. They will be maintained on your mobile which will give you the option of looking for deals, comparing prices and getting directions to the nearest retailer with whom you are a loyalty member. You will also have the option of having your mobile notify you of deals based on its prediction of your needs. For example on a Saturday morning when it sees you are buying garden tools at the DIY, it may offer you a promotion at the nearby garden centre which is uniquely created for you.
You will have a personalized newspaper on your mobile which carries both stories and advertising offers of specific interest to you. You will be surprised at first at how relevant they are. You won’t have to search for stories any more and you won’t be pushed information you are not interested in. You will only buy newspapers on rare occassions and within a few years printed newspapers won’t be available any more.
Music is an interesting one and the way you enjoy it will change dramatically in the near future. Within 24 months music CD’s will be out of production and you will either subscribe to a music service with a monthly subscription or possibly it will be offered as part of a mobile offer from your telecommunications provider. The question at the moment is whether the major music provider will be Apple, Nokia, Vodafone or a service such as Spotify.
For those who want to really get into their artists, you will be able to download apps. Several years ago I wrote a piece for NetGuide, which they declined to publish. I said that CD’s would die because the record companies were not providing any added value. I suggested that they add music videos, interviews, digital photos, background stories, lyrics etc to the media. It wouldn’t have cost them anything because it was all material that they already had access to. Anyway, long story short, guess what is already available to an iPhone, Android or other device near you? All of those things. Bands and their management are using off the shelf tools to put all of these things onto mobile devices including gig calendars, social media and the ability to purchase event tickets and merchandise from within the applications. They will also allow you to communicate with other fans from within the applications and future functionality will include the ability to remix tracks and record your own cover versions to share with other fans. Competitions and special offers will also be included.
In future when you go to a concert you will be able to hold your mobile up towards the stage using facial recognition to identify the performers using augmented reality and take tagged photos showing the names of the artists and of course the location the photos or videos were taken. Of course the facial recognition will also identify your friends and associates for posting and sharing on your favorite social media pages.
I could write a book on this stuff, but I thought it was time I shared a few things with you before they start happening and you take them for granted. I like being able to say “I told you so”.
In finishing I note that Apple have just filed a patent on mobile facial recognition. They also mentioned biometrics, funny, I still have a HP iPaq with a finger scanner. Want to know more about facial recognition? Here’s a quick 2 minute primer.